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Alsace Grand Cru: spirit better than letter, says Hugel

Published:  23 July, 2008

By Neil Beckett

The latest legislation on Alsace Grand Cru (24 January 2001) will not achieve as much as the unofficial steps which growers in several villages have recently undertaken on their own initiative, according to Marc Hugel, winemaker at Hugel & Fils in Riquewihr. He dismissed the regulations on training vines (such as the gap between wires) as "rubbish", saying that "if such small things could really make a difference, everybody would already be doing them. People try to make other people believe that you can come up with a recipe. You need to change the grower's mentality to change the wine." He joked that most of the wines produced from grand cru sites would not qualify for the appellation, as the vines are planted at a density of 1.5x1.5 metres (= 4,444 vines/ha) and the minimum is 4,500 vines/ha. Asked how much confidence he had in the panels which award the agrment each year, he replied "5-10%". Hugel gave a qualified welcome to the reduction in maximum permitted yields (rendement de base set at 55 hl/ha), saying "Yes, that's OK as far as it goes, but who checks?" He greeted as an overdue return to tradition the case-by-case authorisation of grape varieties other than Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat, and the recognition of blends from some sites. He said that the most positive steps were those being taken by growers themselves on a cru-by-cru basis. In Riquewihr, roughly half have decided to visit each other's vineyards. The day-long site visits have come as "an electric shock" to those who previously refused such access, shaming them into redoubling their efforts. As influential, biannual blind tastings of wines from both cask and bottle are helping to identify the quintessential style of the sites. Although Hugel & Fils is among several highly-rated producers which do not use the grand cru appellation (preferring to use proprietary brands), he said that they approved of the new sense of collective responsibility: "Only this will help."